Care home workers have been given a deadline to receive both coronavirus vaccine doses – or face the sack.
Care minister Helen Whately signed off an amendment to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 on Thursday last week (22 July) that provided a “16-week grace period for requiring staff to get [fully] vaccinated”.
This effectively means staff – unless exempt from vaccines for medical reasons – will not be allowed to work in care homes if they are not double-jabbed by 11 November.
Given the eight-week gap between first and second doses, it also means unvaccinated staff would need to receive their first jabs by 16 September.
The rule will apply in England and Wales. Critics have said mandatory vaccines are a "profound departure from public health norms", though the government said it is "imperative" to protect "those most at risk from COVID-19".
While staff face the sack if they are not fully vaccinated, a number of exemptions apply to other people entering care homes.
These include care home residents themselves, friends or relatives of care home residents, emergency service workers, maintenance workers and under-18s.
Care Quality Commission (CQC) research has found more than 39,000 care home residents died of COVID between 10 April last year and 31 March.
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In its explanatory text for the amendment, the government cited Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advice for 80% vaccine uptake among staff, and 90% among residents, to protect against outbreaks in care homes.
It said only 65% of care homes in England are meeting this dual threshold, while in the London region it is 44%.
In April, the government launched a consultation on the matter among care home staff and providers. It found 57% of respondents were against mandatory vaccines.
The government also admitted there was likely to be “a short-term cost of dealing with staff absences, if workers chose not to get vaccinated as a result of the policy”.
But it insisted that “in the long run… having a fully vaccinated workforce reduces the likelihood of a high number of absent days”.
It also said any care homes that do not comply will face action from the CQC.
The issue over compulsory vaccines for care home staff has been fraught ever since the consultation was announced.
Unison, the union representing public service workers, said at the time it was the "wrong approach" and "could backfire badly".
Earlier this month, experts writing in the BMJ, the medical trade journal, said mandatory vaccines would be “profound departure from public health norms”. They labelled the policy “unnecessary, disproportionate, and misguided”.
The government said: "It is imperative that together we now take every step necessary to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to those most at risk from COVID-19 and those who care for them."
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